“Persons and Things” Gender Dialogue Tool Stirs Change in Malawi

Traditions and cultural beliefs have a long-standing influence on how communities perceive women in Africa. These traditions have informed Malawian communities that women are of lesser value to the extent that their empowerment is considered directing productive resources to the wrong use. Due to this mindset, women are unfairly compensated for their agricultural labor, carry an unfair share of the household workload, are excluded from agricultural decision-making, are denied legal ownership of the land that they cultivate, and are under-represented in local community organizations, in particular, in agricultural unions and co-operatives.

In September, 2013, the Pathways Global Team hosted a training on the Farmer Field and Business School methodology, including sessions on  agriculture, marketing, nutrition, and gender. During the training, several tools were discussed, pretested and selected by the Malawian team. Afterwards, farmer to farmer trainers began applying the selected tools in Bwalo la alimi centres – Farmer Field and Business Schools – where demonstration plots were mounted. Among the tools was the “Persons and Things” tool, designed to spark dialogue about power dynamics in Malawian homes and communities.

The persons and things session begins with a role play in which participants pair up. One partner treats the other as an object who has no feelings or rights, often violating their personal space or commanding their “object” to work for them. The role play is followed by a plenary discussion inviting participants to draw parallels between the activity and the treatment of women in society. In Kasungu in particular, the Persons and Things tool has resulted positively. The following quotes come from men and women Pathways’ participants who experienced changes in their homes after participating in the “Persons and Things” gender dialogue discussion.

Harrison Chiwede, the farmer to farmer trainer (FFT), was the first to testify how the tool helped him to change things around at his household.  “I left my wife for the past 20 year to do household chores alone because culture considers this a woman’s business. However, the ‘’person and things’’ lesson has rebuked me greatly. Now I see how inconsiderate I was to my wife. I wish I knew this a long time ago.’’ Said Harrison Chiwede, the FFT.  Mr Chiwede is now one of the male champions in Kasungu spearheading an initiative for men to be supportive to women by helping them wherever possible. Harison Chiwede can now assist his wife cooking, sweeping and even washing clothes.

Mr. Maseko agreed, “I now have known that I was mistreating my wife after the “Persons and Things” discussion. I used to marry another woman whenever I had a disagreement with my wife. To me that was a way of showing that I was a man; superior to my wife. Now I understand; I was at fault. I have finally divorced women I married for convenience sake. I, therefore, have vowed never to marry again but resolve any conflict by discussing things with my wife.”

Malita Mwasala of Mwase in Kasungu also agrees to the effect that the tool has on her marriage. “We used to have quarrels in our family, and most of the time I was beaten up or even sent packing to my mother’s house whenever I said no to his sexual advancement. To my husband, a woman had no right to say no to such advancements at any cost. Since the time we learnt “Persons and Things,” I have never been forced to have sex, let alone sent home packing.’’

As for Marget Phiri, the story is different; “I was baffled one day when my husband told me how much he earned from a tobacco sale and asked me to contribute my ideas on how we should spend the money. In disbelief, I told him to do as he pleased. He insisted for a week before I put forward my ideas. I was later surprised to see that he put my ideas into effect. Since then, I am consulted whenever there is a critical decision to make. I now feel loved and respected. I, therefore, love my husband more now than before – although we have been married for 15 years.”



Written by Charles Mkangara, Pathways Malawi Staff
Edited by Melissa Jennings